Rowe, the former UConn men's basketball coach and longtime adviser to the athletic department, witnessed the gold medal victory as a representative of UConn at the Summer Olympics. Rowe's wife, Ginny, was with him and the trip was arranged by Auriemma, with the support of UConn president Susan Herbst and athletic director Warde Manuel.
"It's just incredible to watch," Rowe said. "It was a Michelangelo for Geno. Twelve all-stars and he kept them smiling and happy. They worked hard and showed a real dominance. He should be so proud. He couldn't have had a finer hour. It's a great testimony to his ability."
Rowe has watched Auriemma bring seven NCAA national championships back to UConn but said the pressure on the UConn coach and men's coach Mike Krzyzewski was unlike anything he had every observed.
"They're supposed to win," Rowe said. "That's the toughest thing in the world. . . . I can't imagine more pressure than what Geno had to endure."
It was 32 years ago that Rowe was headed to the Olympics as assistant basketball coach to the late Dave Gavitt, founder of the Big East Conference and Rowe's longtime friend and protégé. Gavitt chose Rowe to be an assistant on the Olympic men's basketball team in 1980. But the US team never got to the Moscow Games because then-President Jimmy Carter declared a boycott of the Olympics after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
"I thought of Dave Gavitt every day," Rowe said, pointing out that the challenge is much different now. "Our players were college players headed to the NBA. It's a different day now. These are professionals."
During a UConn reception in London, Rowe was able to re-connect with former Huskies great Tony Hanson, who was the most prolific scorer during Rowe's coaching tenure. Hanson has lived in Great Britain for many years.
"I'm so proud of him," Rowe said. "He's got three kids. He was honored by the Queen a couple of years ago for his work in the community. He teaches and coaches and works with young kids. You know he wants to help people. He's used to that, being from the neighborhood and helping kids."
Auriemma kidded that it was a good thing Rowe's wife was along on the trip to London.
"I'm glad I didn't have to take care of him because, you know, he doesn't know how to use his cell phone. So he didn't know what to do when he got to the airport," Auriemma joked. "I don't know that he knows what a passport is. Thank God Ginny was with him."
More seriously, Auriemma said he just wanted Rowe to enjoy the experience.
"And he did," Auriemma said. "I think it gave him [a tiny] feel for what the Olympics are like – that he never got to experience fully as a coach.
"Dee has done a lot for me in my 27 years here – personally and professionally. I wanted to make sure I did something in return for him.''
Rowe relished the entire atmosphere.
"The first day we walked through the Olympic park and there was every race and creed and color and native origin. Everybody is smiling and happy. You live in a world of incredible turmoil and people are getting along through sport.
"The last day we saw the marathon. Thousands of people are lined up and they're all cheering whoever comes by. It doesn't matter where they're from. There's a spirit that really captures you."
Rowe also had the opportunity to visit Krzyzewski and Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim of the men's basketball staff. It was a great time for a man who loves basketball with all his heart. But nothing can ever replace the opportunity Rowe missed out on in 1980.
"I was grateful for the experience, but there's nothing like being on the bench and helping the players as they represent our country," Rowe said. "All I could do here was cheer and be grateful for the opportunity. I'm grateful to the university and particularly to Geno."